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MLS Introduction

Multilevel security (MLS) has posed a challenge to the computer security community since the 1960s. MLS sounds like a mundane problem in access control: allow information to flow freely between recipients in a computing system who have appropriate security clearances while preventing leaks to unauthorized recipients. However, MLS systems incorporate two essential features: first, the system must enforce these restrictions regardless of the actions of system users or administrators, and second, MLS systems strive to enforce these restrictions with incredibly high reliability. This has led developers to implement specialized security mechanisms and to apply sophisticated techniques to review, analyze, and test those mechanisms for correct and reliable behavior.

Despite this, MLS systems have rarely provided the degree of security desired by their most demanding customers in the military services, intelligence organizations, and related agencies. The high costs associated with developing MLS products, combined with the limited size of the user community, have also prevented MLS capabilities from appearing in commercial products.

Portions of this article also appear as Chapter 205 of the Handbook of Information Security, Volume 3, Threats, Vulnerabilities, Prevention, Detection and Management, Hossein Bidgoli, ed., ISBN 0-471-64832-9, John Wiley, 2006.

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